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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

New Visa Rule For Foreign Tech Couples Helps Some, Not All

RP's husband works in the Seattle area on an H-1B  visa. They lived together in Seattle for a year and a half before RP returned to work in India, due to visa restrictions.
KUOW Photo/Harsha Vadlamani
RP's husband works in the Seattle area on an H-1B visa. They lived together in Seattle for a year and a half before RP returned to work in India, due to visa restrictions.

Washington is one of the top states that brings in high-skilled foreign workers, filling thousands of jobs every year.

This week, those workers got some long-awaited news from the federal government: A blanket rule that barred their spouses from working will soon be lifted.


Issaquah resident Sailaja Rachamadugu has been stuck in this predicament, unable to work. When she saw the news, she started calling friends in the same boat.

Rachamadugu: “I called all them and I was like, ‘Did you hear the news? And they said, ‘Yes, I did.’ It’s all over Facebook right now.”

Rachamadugu’s lived here seven years, and this news means her long wait to get back to work will soon end.

Rachamadugu: “My mind is full of ideas. I don’t know what to do but yes, I’m definitely going to apply for jobs right away.”

Rachamadugu’s husband works at Microsoft on what’s called an H-1B visa for high-skilled foreign workers. He’s one of several thousand here in Washington.

Their spouses - mostly wives - have long pushed for the federal program to allow work permits for them, too. And now it’s happening, but not for everyone.

[asset-images[{"caption": "", "fid": "97899", "style": "offset_left", "uri": "public://201411/H-1BVisas.gif", "attribution": "Credit KUOW/Kara McDermott"}]]Ester Greenfield is an immigration attorney in Seattle. She said the new rule only covers workers whose employers have sponsored them for a green card. And that varies.

Greenfield: “Some employers have a policy of hiring people in H-1B status and immediately starting the green card process for them. Those people could be eligible maybe one year into the employment. Others have a 'wait and see' attitude.”

Vaibhav Brid’s employer falls into that latter category. He’s on the fifth year of his visa with a Microsoft contractor in Redmond, and no progress yet on his green card.

Brid: "Yeah, I’m actually fighting for it a lot but just no luck so far."

Because of this visa issue, Brid’s similarly high-tech wife returned to work in India last year. And this rule change won’t help them. The separation’s been tough.

Brid: "I go back to an empty home and there is nothing there for me. Right now it’s just me and my laptop and my PS4."

Reporter: "You’re playing video games?"

Brid: "Yeah." (laughs)

It’s just a way to fill the void, he said. He’d much rather cook dinner or take an evening walk with his wife, like they used to.

Year started with KUOW: 2006